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Negan has finally arrived on The Walking Dead. Here’s why he’s so important.

The Walking Dead/AMC
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Spoilers follow for The Walking Dead's season six finale, "Last Day on Earth," as well as for key moments from the Walking Dead comics.

For the past couple seasons of The Walking Dead, many fans have speculated about when Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) would finally show up. And on Sunday's season six finale, they got their answer.

In "Last Day on Earth," the show introduced to Negan in brutal fashion, as he seemingly killed off a member of Rick's group (the show faded to black before we could find out who it was) and set himself up to be an evil force for next season. No one is safe now that Negan is finally here.

Here's a brief guide to this big bad's comic book story, and perhaps a glimpse of what's to come in The Walking Dead season seven.

Who is Negan?

Negan is the most iconic villain in Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic books, the source material for the AMC television show. The character is known for carrying a spiked baseball bat he calls "Lucille," which is more or less his calling card; it's not unlike the Phantom of the Opera's mask, the Joker's painted face, Dracula's cape, or Loki's horns. Show any fan of the Walking Dead comic books a picture of that bat, and they'll know exactly who you're talking about.

What makes Negan iconic?

In the comic books, Negan is the leader a group called the Saviors, who achieve their power through stockpiling weaponry and brawn. They offered to kill zombies for the group known as the Hilltop Colony, then used their muscle and force to rule over them.

But what makes Negan so fearsome and so remembered by fans of the comics isn't just that he's the head of the vicious Saviors; it's what he does in The Walking Dead issue No. 100. The Saviors and Rick's group clash, Rick's group ends up in trouble, and to send a message, Negan randomly picks one person from Rick's group to kill:

The Walking Dead No. 100. (Image Comics)

Negan's dark game of "eenie meenie" ends on Glenn, whom he then beats to death with Lucille. It's bloody. It's gross. It's visceral. And just like that, one of the most beloved characters in The Walking Dead is gone.

The Walking Dead No. 100. (Image Comics)

It's been four years since the issue was published, and spoilers and speculation about Negan (and Glenn's potential death by his hand) have long been whispered about — especially with regard to how this scene might be adapted for or depicted on TV. But the original scene is still one of the most shocking and heartbreaking comic book moments in recent memory.

It also drives home Negan's savagery. This man rules by instilling fear in others. When he kills Glenn, it isn't a fair fight — Glenn, a sweet character in his own right, is helpless. Negan doesn't care, takes advantage of that fact, and then relishes the destruction and violence he's inflicted.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about this issue, however, is that it's merely our introduction to Negan.

Negan is one of the most sadistic, unfeeling characters in The Walking Dead's universe — but you can still see flashes of his humanity

Obviously, Negan isn't the only villain Rick and his friends have encountered. Shane was unstable and went from being Rick's best friend to being a traitor. The Governor was pretty awful and unhinged. And the Hunters (who appeared on the TV show as the residents of Terminus) were so bad at hunting they ate people.

The riveting thing about The Walking Dead is that in the comics, all these characters are fleshed out — they're not just bad people acting badly. The zombie outbreak has changed them. It's warped them into beings that may not resemble who they were before the outbreak. Even heroes have lost their humanity. But there are moments where you see hints of what they might have been like before everything fell apart — flashes of clarity where you can see what drives them.

With Negan, you see such a hint in his relationship with Carl.

Carl actually comes for Negan, tries to kill him, and fails. But instead of retaliating, Negan sees bravery in Carl and takes him under his wing. It's a tenuous relationship that I wouldn't quite call friendship; it's more like a mentorship of sorts. One of my favorite scenes featuring the two happens in The Walking Dead issue No. 105, with Negan acting like a little kid and wanting to see what's under Carl's eyepatch:

The Walking Dead No. 105. (Image Comics)

To be clear, Carl still wants to kill Negan. And Negan knows this, but he admires Carl's courage. He tells Carl to stick up for himself more. And beneath all that evil and savagery, you get a glimpse of what Negan values (even if it's completely warped and sadistic).

It's an absolutely weird relationship, but it makes sense in the comic. It's also something that would benefit the TV show. Over the last few seasons, we've witnessed the deterioration of Carl and Rick's relationship. Introducing this storyline from the comic would help the writers expand on that idea a little more, bringing a new dynamic into Rick's life.

The caveat with The Walking Dead

At this point, the Walking Dead comics and the Walking Dead TV series are completely different. Certain characters are dead in one and alive in the other, and some characters have had completely different story arcs (see: Andrea). And just because Negan killed Glenn in the comic book doesn't mean he has to kill Glenn on the show. With the way the episode ended, it's unclear whom Negan beat to death. And there's always the chance that there will be changes made to the source material.

But his arrival has been teased for an entire season, and now the biggest bad The Walking Dead has ever seen is finally here.

Further reading:

Watch: The fascinating process of human decomposition

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